Vegan alcoholic drinks

This is another one that non-vegans are always surprised about when I tell them... Many alcoholic drinks, particularly beers and wines, are not suitable for vegans or vegetarians. This is usually due to the products that are used to filter or clarify the drinks, such as gelatine (boiled bones, tendons and skin), isinglass (fish swim bladders), egg albumen or milk products such as casein.

Unfortunately, manufacturers are not required to state on the packaging whether or not these products have been used. They're not considered ingredients (they're processing aids), and in any case, alcoholic drinks are also not required to list their ingredients.

Where to find vegan suitable drinks

Wines: Co-op and Sainsbury's are very good at labelling their vegan wines as suitable for vegans. I've been told Waitrose do the same, but haven't been to check for myself. Independent off licences (i.e. proper ones that know their products) sometimes label which wines are suitable for vegans, and some off-licence chains have vegan wine lists.

Beers: In supermarkets some beers, particularly Real Ales, will be labelled if they are suitable for vegans. As far as I am aware, isinglass (from fish) is the only non-vegan filtering agent used to clarify beer, so if a beer says suitable for vegetarians it's highly likely to be suitable for vegans too, unless it's a speciality beer which has honey as an ingredient. The Vegan Society's Animal Free Shopper website and book have details of some vegan beers and other drinks, including many of the mainstream brands found in pubs.

Other drinks: Cider is sometimes clarified with gelatine and spirits may or may not involve animal-derived processing aids, unfortunately it's often a case of checking with the manufacturer of individual products to find out. Soft drinks are usually vegan but watch out for any which contain beta-carotene (orange-coloured drinks) as this may use gelatine as a carrier but not say so on the label, or pink-coloured drinks containing E120/carmine/cochineal, as this colouring is made from crushed beetles.

Vegetarian wholefoods stores will sometimes sell vegan wines and beers, or you can mail order from places such as Vintage Roots or Vinceremos.

Trying to find out if a drink is vegan

Sometimes the customer services department/store staff will not have a clue what you mean when you ask if a drink is suitable for vegans ("but it's wine, of course it's vegan, it's just made from grapes") and sometimes you have to explain what you mean. The ones who do know what you mean may try and tell you that it's still suitable for vegans even though animal products are used in the manufacture of the product, because the processing aid is removed from the finished product before it is bottled. This doesn't make any difference as to whether or not it's vegan, if animal products were used in the manufacture then it's not suitable for vegans. (As one of my vegan friends puts it, "you can't give the swim bladder back to the fish afterwards!").

There are a few vegan alcohol lists kicking about on the internet, but if you refer to any of these do check the date when the information was obtained, as some of the information is several years old and companies do change their manufacturing methods...